Manchester Gothic Festival 2014 – Day Two

The decision to hold another installment of the Manchester Gothic festival has been utterly vindicated, no doubt inspired by our glowing coverage last year! Supported by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Humanities in Public project, the festival was broader, with more events held over multiple sites – and well attended by members of the public as well as learned academics, and blagging journalists like The Blogging Goth!

Travelling from Newcastle, we weren’t able to attend the opening session of the festival, held at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation – but the very capable staff of Humanity Hallows, the student press blog, were in situ. We’ll be linking frequently to the excellent write-ups they provide as the weekend proceeds.

It is encouraging to note the event was packed and sold-out – the popularity of the Festival reflects much of what is discussed throughout Gothic Manchester. The English became fascinated with the terrifying and terrific centuries ago, and that passion remains, bringing people out in their scores to discuss the origins and ongoing nature of Gothic culture.

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Photo courtesy of Ade Hunter / MMU

One of those ongoing issues is the rampant rise of Steampunk, now a subculture all of its own, and the subject of the second day’s session. At one point I tweeted a half-recalled definition of this sprawling, creative field…

…and realized I was quoting renowned Steampunk author and commentator G.D. Falksen. It’s a succinct and accurate quote, perfect for the journalist, but it still leaves a great deal unsaid! So the festival convened a session entitled What Is This Thing Called Steampunk?, held appropriately enough amidst the functional and steaming machinery of the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.

steampunk, gothic manchester, mosi

Photo courtesy of Ade Hunter / MMU

The day began with a tour of the vast engine hall of MOSI, where Head of Collections Jack Kirby introduced us to some of the formidable engineering of the 18th and 19th centuries, that have so influenced the aesthetics of Steampunk. Many of the vast mill engines are still functioning, and it was a delightfully visual, aural and olfactory experience that brings a reality to Steampunk technology that is sadly missing from prop replicas.

steampunk, gothic manchester, mosi

Photos courtesy of Ade Hunter / MMU

Reinforcing this fact, Peter Harrow was on hand to demonstrate the amazing customised gadgets he hand makes, all of which function entirely – bar some aesthetic extras, like switches that serve no other purpose than making a satisfying clunk when you flick them! “More Use than Ornament” was the title of his presentation, and it was apt.

An entertaining and confident speaker, Peter demonstrated that most prevailing characteristic of Steampunk – the gorgeous design work, and the enthusiasm that goes into creating it. More so than any other subculture, Steampunk embraces and encourages a DIY attitude that allows people to be incredibly unique, and to go beyond the ubiquitous top hat and goggles.

Also escaping the Steampunk stereotypes were Duncan McNulty and James Hogg of the Bartitsu Amateur Forum – martial artists who teach a Victorian-era mode of self-defence that saw usage  once deployed by the estimable Sherlock Holmes! In more significant terms, certain Suffragettes also learned the skills and proved more than a match for the heavy-handed constabulary of the day. Suffragette-that-knew-jiujitsu

A crucial skill for the Steampunk as well, it incorporates fighting with an improvised weapon such as a walking stick or inconveniently non-functioning sidearm. In all cases it comes across as a methodical, simplistic and utterly effective style of self-defense that employs your assailant’s efforts against them successfully.
The Blogging Goth does not condone violence at any level – but should you be interested in a novel and potent martial art, this is the one we condone the least!

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Grandville – Bryan Talbot

After this physical exertion, it was time to pursue the more cerebral side of this subculture, with some academic examinations. First was Dr. Claire Nally of Northumbria University, who amongst other projects is working on a book due in 2015 entitled Steampunk: Gender, Subculture and the Neo-Victorian. She is also, for the purposes of full disclosure, the significant other to your current author, Tim Sinister.

Examining the work of graphic novels, in particular the prolific Bryan Talbot, Dr. Nally looked at how Steampunk’s barely established conventions can be both reinforced and challenged by creativity in this field. Grandville, Talbot’s latest series, features familiar Steampunk tropes – steam technology in a more modern age, an alternate past where France won the Napoleonic War – and more bizarre concept of all main characters being anthropomorphic animals!  It’s also, I can independently observe, an absolutely cracking read and is highly recommended.

Next, and discussing the subcultural origins of Steampunk was Dr. Anna Powell, an established and acclaimed academic in the field of Gothic studies.  As such, she is eminently qualified to dissect both cultures, and she examined what tropes Steampunk and Goth share – and how they are, unarguably, different.

As Dr. Powell later stated, there is a “Clear distinction between the Gothic and Steampunk, but there are also obvious characteristics they borrow from one another.”
One characteristic that sets the anachronistic adventurers apart, she suggested, was the way in which they fetishise their machines, and the culture that builds them. Goths, presumably, have neither inclination nor subject to fetishise!

Photo courtesy of Ade Hunter / MMU

Photo courtesy of Ade Hunter / MMU

At the other end of the spectrum were the speakers from Sub Kulture, a group of alternative types who are interested in exploring Christianity and faith as it exists within counter-culture. Matt and Claire wanted to explain how something like religion could exist in something as atheist or humanist as Steampunk – and it really comes across as reimagining Christianity in brass-goggle terms!

Contemplating a deity as the fabled ‘Great Engineer’ might actually find some traction, and many of the grease and oil spattered mechanical types could possibly get behind Sub’s reimagined Psalm 23 – rewritten for the internal combustion engine. It was definitely refreshing to consider a new perspective on belief and culture, but it didn’t seem like many of the attendees were being swayed from their atheist and/or humanist outlooks! Speaking to Matt afterwards, we invited him to write a guest article for The Blogging Goth, and let our audience decide for themselves as well.

On that thoughtful note, What Is Steampunk? concluded for the day, having looked at origins, creativity, violence, faith, technology and awesome outfits. We those categories have covered all bases, and some of the diehard crowd later attended ArA, the infamous Manchester nightclub held in a still-functioning Church for less talk, more dancing! A risky move, as a full day of academic lectures is occurring on Saturday… So bookmark The Blogging Goth for more updates from Manchester Gothic 2014!

Photo courtesy of Ade Hunter / MMU: Festival co-ordinators Dr. Xavier Reyes and Dr. Linnie Blake

Photo courtesy of Ade Hunter / MMU:
Festival co-ordinators Dr. Xavier Reyes and Dr. Linnie Blake

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About The Blogging Goth

The Blogging Goth - the world's only dedicated UK Goth news service.
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2 Responses to Manchester Gothic Festival 2014 – Day Two

  1. Pingback: Cemetery Confessions from The Blogging Goth | The Blogging Goth

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